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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The setting of the novel opens with Michael Henchard, Susan, and Elizabeth-Jane approaching Weydon Priors in Upper Wessex. It is here where Henchard auctions his wife and daughter for five pounds and where, eighteen years later, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane make their way back to search for Henchard. They are directed to Casterbridge, where the main action of the story takes place. Casterbridge is a fictional rural town based on the town of Dorchester, located in southwestern England. It is in this part of the country, known from medieval times as Wessex, where much of Hardy's fiction takes place.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
The protagonist and tragic hero of the story. This novel covers his rise from a hay-trusser to Mayor of Casterbridge to his ultimate fall in society. He becomes an outcast and indigent due to his character which, despite his grit and determination, is flawed.
An amiable Scotsman who comes to Casterbridge to introduce modern scientific business methods to the area. He is Henchard's one time friend, turned nemesis, who not only wins the woman Henchard desires, Lucetta, but replaces him as the Mayor.
The wife of Henchard who is auctioned off to Newson, the sailor. She plays only briefly into the novel, mainly providing important aspects of plot. She dies less than halfway through the book. Her main contribution to the plot is that she hides the fact that Elizabeth-Jane is, in fact, Newson's daughter and not Henchard's. She allows him to harbor the delusion that she is his daughter until her death.
The heroine of the story and supposed daughter of Michael Henchard. She is quiet and reserved, keen on observing life around her. She strives to maintain a conservative, correct social relationship with others and attempts to educate herself. Despite the many blows life has dealt her, she is buoyant and open to what life has to offer.
Lucetta Templeman (Le Sueur)
A flirtatious, indiscreet young woman from Jersey who gets involved with Henchard and comes to Casterbridge to persuade Henchard to marry her. While there, she meets Farfrae, falls in love with him, and marries him. Her letters to Henchard leave her open to blackmail. They fall into the wrong hands, and she dies as a consequence of the exposure.
The sailor who buys Susan and her daughter for five guineas. He is a kind, jovial man who engineers his loss at sea so that Susan could return to Henchard. He appears to be gullible and believes Henchard when he lies about Elizabeth-Jane's death.
A lower class townsperson who harbors grudges against Henchard, Farfrae, and Lucetta for their many slights against him. He plots their downfall by arranging the skimmity-ride. He is vindictive and plotting.
The rustics provide humor in the novel. They comment on the actions of their superiors and are comparable to the chorus in Greek drama. In this novel, they also participate in the action by arranging the skimmity-ride.
Special mention must be made of Abel Whittle. First introduced as a clown, he becomes Henchard's faithful follower. He is the only one to minister to his needs when Henchard dies. He is a figure comparable to King Lear's Fool.
The 'furmity woman'
The woman who laces Henchard's furmity with rum. She witnesses Susan's auction and, eighteen years later, directs Susan to Casterbridge. She also plays a vital role in hastening Henchard's decline by her dramatic revelation in court.